Catholic Cubans Wish They Weren't Happy About Fidel Castro's Death

Nov 27, 2016

Cuban exiles are celebrating loudly all over South Florida after hearing of Fidel Castro’s death. But the joy is more subdued at Ermita de la Caridad in Coconut Grove.  

For decades, the church has been a gathering place for Cuban exiles in Miami.

Today some churchgoers are here to ask for forgiveness, for rejoicing the death of the dictator.

The church’s rector Father Fernando Heria is prepared to offer it.

“We expect that a lot of people are going to be coming for confession. And I’m sure the ‘me da culpa’ for today is that “I’m happy that he’s dead.” And we never wish that upon any human being,” said Hera.

Some form of that guilt is on the mind of Cubans at the church today.

Lourdes Soegaard drove to church from West Kendall with her mother and two flags in tow. One American. One Cuban. Soegaard says she felt the urge to come to this church after hearing the news.

Vicente Campos came to Ermita de la Caridad with his parents to give thanks for the passing of Fidel Castro.
Credit Lisann Ramos

“It’s never a good thing you that you’re happy because somebody died. But this person did a lot of harm so we thought it would be best just to come and pray,” said Soegaard.

Vicente Campos is also thinking about this guilt. But he’s only partially feeling it.

“A devil is dead. I’m sorry. Some people say ‘You should not celebrate the death of someone’ but we do. And we come here to thank God,” said Campos.

Father Heria interprets the celebratory attitude a little differently.

“They’re letting out the pain that for 58 years they’ve been holding in their hearts. And you have to let it go. This is their way of letting go," said Heria.

In this delicate time, Father Heria says he hopes to do what Ermita de la Caridad has always done-- unite the Cuban people.

A church volunteer, Felix Valdes, prepares the memorabilia table to sell items from the Ermita de la Caridad gift shop before noon service on the day after Fidel Castro's passing. Valdes came to Miami from Cuba 48 years ago.
Credit Lisann Ramos

For the past 15 years, the church has had a plan in place for Fidel Castro’s death.

They immediately opened the church--as well as others in West Miami and Hialeah-- after finding out about Castro’s death at 1AM.

Heria says they had to adjust the plan a bit since the news broke at such an odd hour.

"Nobody came. Everybody was in the streets rejoicing. I shouldn’t say rejoicing. They were expressing the liberation of their pain. And that’s ok. That’s acceptable too. We’re all human beings. God is a big boy. He understands," said Heria.

Every Saturday the church broadcasts its 8 o’clock evening mass to Cuba, and tonight is no exception.

Father Heria says he understands there’s a great responsibility in bringing together the people of Cuba as well as the Cuban community in Miami.

Heria is also prepared to welcome people who are mourning the loss of Castro. He said that’s the beauty of living in a totally free country.